Surviving Is Just Step One
Author: Cheryl W.
Disclaimer: I do not own any characters or any rights to Supernatural, nor am I making any profit from this story.
Author's Note: As promised, here's the final chapter and it's a long one.
Chapter 24: Other Side of a Battlefield
Rule # 23: Certain wars must be waged because sometimes peace can only be found on the other side of a battlefield.
SNSNSNSNS ~ Present ~ SNSNSNSNSN
When Dean stops talking, Sam isn't sure if he's going to cry or just hug Dean real hard, wants to call Cas, even friggin' Benny, and thank them both for saving his brother, for keeping Dean alive so he could come back to him. "Dean..I …they…." he stammers, is having trouble dealing with how close he came to losing Dean, for real. Is surprised and overwhelmed by the gratitude he feels for Benny and Cas for not letting that happen, for fighting for Dean…almost as hard as he would have. But one coherent, horrifying thought tops all the rest. "This was just one day down there?!"
Hearing the panic in his brother's tone, Dean downplays with a roguish smirk, "Didn't want to bore you with anything not on my top five list." But inside, he's ashamed, ashamed of dumping Sam in the deep end, of starting with that particular day instead of easing into things, of testing Sam's loyalty in the face of his weakness. 'Yeah, because it's Sam's loyalty in question, right?' he internally jeers at himself, knows that he's been the one with the trust issues.
"Top five?" Sam tersely repeats Dean's statistic, his dread rising instead of dissipating. "You mean this wasn't the worst of it?" And if it wasn't, Sam's pretty sure he can't bear to hear Dean's other top four, not without punching the wall or losing the meager breakfast he forced himself to eat hours ago.
Sam's question has Dean remembering arriving in Purgatory and Cas suddenly gone. Can almost feel that soul drenching fear again that nearly immobilized him, the fear that Cas was dead, that the angel's decision to help him go after Dick had cost him his life. So yeah, not his worst day but right up there in 2nd place. Refocusing on the here and now, on Sam's expectant expression, he answers with a quip, "What can I say, I grade on a scale."
Grimly, Sam recognizes that, in Dean speak, that's a no. And it sends a hard chill down his spine, knowing this wasn't the worst of it, wasn't the closest Dean came to be killed, wasn't even the event that scared Dean the most. Popping out his chair, Sam doesn't pace but plops down on the bed at Dean's legs, suddenly needs his brother's nearness to steady his nerves. "And you think any part of that was your fault?!" he sputters, can't believe even Dean's perchance for guilt can make a convincing case for that.
Not prepared for Sam to so valiantly defend him, Dean gives a growled protest of "Sam….don't," because he knows what his daydreaming nearly cost his friends.
But there's no way Sam's backing down, letting Dean feel guilty for things wholly not his fault. "Just because stupid, bad crap happens to you, it doesn't mean you deserve it, that you screwed up," he declares with impassioned conviction, praying that Dean will accept that truth.
"Right, cause I'm just naturally bad luck for anyone around me," Dean sourly replies, knows the real score even if Sam's trying to fudge the stats for his sake. "Come on, Sam, it's simple cause and effect. I screwed up, brought this all down on, not just my head, but Cas and Benny's."
"I think you're forgetting that, contrary to my joke, you didn't piss off the caterpillars, Dean. They targeted you, that the ghouls, they wanted you. You didn't do anything to make those attacks happen." Then with a frustrated shake of his head, he sorrowfully points out, "No matter what incidental bad luck you think you bring down on others, you're always getting the brunt of it." And he takes the time then to send out a hate message to Fate for its continual and ongoing cruelty to his brother.
"Yeah, and when someone gets the brainy idea to save me… they get dead," Dean savagely reminds his brother, a brother who had been a victim of that cause-effect more than once. And it didn't end and begin with Sam. No, there's a long list of other names on that roll call, those who had made the fatal mistake to value his life…and in the process lost their own.
Instinctively, Sam knows the list Dean's compiling in his head, is pretty sure their Dad's topping it. Fisting his hand in Dean's shirt, he gives it a light tug, enough to get Dean to look at him, see him. "Their choice, Dean. Benny and Cas's choice. My choice when Mac and the others turned their backs on you. You didn't twist any of our arms." Seeing in his brother's features a hesitant desire to believe him, he jokes, "Maybe you're as irresistible as you always thought you were."
And it's threadbare, Dean's answering smile, but it's there. It tells Sam that Dean's earnestly trying to accept his words, to forgive himself. 'I'll pound it home to him every day,' he vows. Then he finds himself smiling, because he's got the time to do that, he and Dean have the time. Have it because of a disgraced angel and a reformed vampire, because his brother's too pigheaded to give up, because sometimes grace is given to those who wholly don't deserve it. 'Like me,' Sam qualifies but he's going to take it, going to treasure the fact that he got Dean back, isn't going to spend a second debating his worthiness of that gift.
Patting Dean's leg, he gently entreats, "How 'bout you get some sleep." Because Dean is pigheaded, yeah, but not invincible, needed to be taken care of once in a while. 'And I'm just the guy for that job. If Dean lets me.'
"Therapy session over?" Dean mockingly inquires, but there's gratitude in his eyes for his brother's care and efforts, for Sam's undeserved but wholly treasured forgiveness.
Sam smirks, never so glad for Dean's wisecracking than at times like this, when things could get all heavy and weird. "For today," he flippantly replies but his eyes meaningfully hold Dean's, and he's hoping Dean's willing to read between the lines, to know that he's there for him, isn't going anywhere, will listen any time he wants to talk, even if it's in the middle of the night. Course his rates would be higher for an after-office-hours consult.
Dean's eyebrows do their climb again as he mockingly repeats his brother's comeback, "For today, huh? You're digging this whole shrink thing you got going on, aren't you? Bet you took some psych classes back in college, bought a cardigan, almost started smoking a pipe."
"Dude, Mr. Rogers wears cardigans and Sherlock Holmes does the pipe thing, not psychiatrists," Sam scoffs with open affection. "I'd ask if you hit your head while making your jail break from the hospital if I didn't already know how out of touch you are with popular culture."
Crabbily, Dean comes back with a lame rejoinder of "You're out of touch…," making Sam smile all the wider and bestow an impishly mocking, my-brother's-such-a-dork look upon him.
Before Dean can think of a better, wittier retort, Sam gives a playful pat on his chest and cockily teases, "Let it go, Dean, before you short out some brain cells." But then his face contorts into his profound worried-little-brother frown, "You need help getting to the bathroom or want something to eat?" Feeling chagrined that he forgot that Dean might have other needs that trump getting some more rest.
And Sam had to go and mention the B word, make the urge he was trying hard to ignore jump to the front of the line. "Need to hit the head…" he begrudgingly admits. But when Sam opens his mouth, he gruffly cuts off the offer he knows Sam's about to repeat, "And no, I don't need help." Starts to prove that by pushing back the covers, hopes Sam can't tell that the lightweight comforter feels like a ton of slate he's shifting. That when he's successfully removed the covers off him, he feels clammy and cold, like he just stepped out of an igloo in the South Pole.
No matter what Dean thinks, he's not fooling him. Sam hasn't missed the way Dean's hands shake, or the terrible effort it took his brother to shove the covers off him, the beaded sweat now on his brother's face. Nor does he miss the painful hitch in his brother's breathing when Dean begins his attempt to roll out the other side of the bed, the side of the bed where he's not there to catch him.
It's easy, almost painfully so, to forestall Dean's motion, takes just light pressure of his hand on Dean's shoulder to pin his terribly weak brother back to the bed, undo all Dean's painful efforts. That knowledge makes his next words come out gentle, an apologetic tone lurking in the no nonsense decree as he leans forward to meet Dean's eyes head on, "My help's non-negotiable."
And it's just like Dean to put up a protest, even though his breath is shallow with pain and he's trembling with fatigue over the minuscule movement. "I made it out of the hospital all by my lonesome, Sam. I don't need help getting to the stupid bathroom."
"Yeah and it's a miracle you didn't pass out. Heck for all I know you did, lay sprawled out on some empty hallway…or the elevator…or if you had exited through another hospital door…" but he bites his bottom lip to stop his ramblings, to hold back his emotions. Because this is so not something he needs to envision, Dean lying unconscious somewhere unknown, getting into that cab and just slipping away from him.
Dean hears the catch in Sam's voice, knows the edge his brother's on, that he's put him on. 'Because Sam cares about you, too much for his own good.' It makes him give in the next moment, but does nothing to wipe out his petulance, "Fine, help me to the dumb head." And Sam's transformation is startling, from troubled and brooding, to relieved and even thankful in two seconds flat. "But I'm closing the door, Sam," he tacks on a point he will not concede.
Raising his hands in surrender, Sam agrees to Dean's terms but a smile is threatening to pull up his lips. "Okay."
Dean gives Sam a narrow eyed glare of suspicion because he knows that expression. But then Sam is standing up, is reaching for him and Dean braces himself for the onslaught of pain. And as insultingly gentle as Sam is, as slowly as his brother levers him upright, as unwavering as Sam's support is, the pain still comes, makes everything go white, muffles Sam's words.
"Dean! Crap! Hey, don't pass out on me. Stay with me," Sam entreaties as Dean tips forward, right into his arms. Instinctively his arms circle his brother, offering support and shelter and the lending of his strength. Dean's lack of response, the shuddering and heat emanating from his brother's battered body, it puts everything into sharp, painful perspective. Cas and Benny weren't the only ones who nearly lost Dean.
That resonating fear has him possessively tightening his hold on Dean.
Sam's touch, it grounds Dean, gives him a measure for up and down, right and wrong, leads him back to the land of the living. "Ease up on the octopus grip, Sammy, or making it to the bathroom will be a non-issue," he mumbles into Sam's shirt, well aware he's the one that did the nose dive into Sam's chest, that he's also the one making absolutely no move to slip out of Sam's arms.
At Dean's weak voiced wisecrack, Sam goes immeasurably still, his breath catches and his eyes close as he revels at his brother's living, breathing presence. 'But I didn't lose him,' he reassures himself again and again before he finds the strength to pull back from Dean, but only far enough to see Dean's face, certainly not making any move to release his possessive hold on his brother.
Though Dean's face is disconcertingly whitewashed and lined with pain, Sam doesn't miss the fact that his brother's giving him a startled look. Like Dean's surprised he caught him when he fell, that his little brother didn't miss the chance to slip in a furtive hug, is practically hyperventilating in panic at his near collapse. "So this is you not needing my help?" he shakily teases without a true ounce of condemnation.
"Just trying to boost your ego," Dean counters, vision finally snapping back to all colors and his pain leveling out to a tolerable altitude.
Sam chokes out a chuckle, "Yeah, sure you are." But then his eyes intensively probe Dean's. "You ready to move again?" hoping Dean knows better than to try and snow him for a second time, especially about his well-being.
Instead of a cocky rejoinder, Dean simply nods, knows he's as ready as he can be and if that's not enough, Sam's there to catch him.
Sam doesn't miss the trust glimmering in Dean's eyes as they hold his, prays it's not misplaced as he slips to Dean's side and hoists his brother to his feet. Dean stumbles against him but doesn't crumble, has a killer grip on the back of Sam's shirt that matches Sam's hold on him. Together they take the first step, then the next, make slow but determined progress across the room to the bathroom doorway. But Sam doesn't stop there, leads them right into the bathroom but before Dean can reinstate his privacy clause, Sam settles Dean's hip against the countertop, waits until he's certain the support is enough to keep Dean on his feet before he slowly, reluctantly slips his hands from Dean's.
He waits for a few seconds, with hands poised to catch Dean, before he murmurs, "I'll be right outside." Then, his eyes not making contact with Dean's, he vacates the bathroom, timidly pulls the door shut, the whole way. Because Dean's wishes, they had to matter to him, even when they terrified him.
When Sam lets him go, when he hears the click of the door shutting, Dean leans harder against the countertop, braces one hand on the vanity and another on the wall and commands his body to not betray him now. Because he doesn't doubt Sam's vow, knows his little brother is hovering just outside the door. And the last thing Sam needs is to storm in and see him passed out on the floor, has been through enough. Has been his counselor today, shouldn't have to scrape him off the pavement, be his orderly too. But Sam would do it, he knows that, trusts that now. And that assurance, it gives him the willpower to mute the pain, dampen the lightheadedness and stand on his own two feet. At least long enough to do his business, call through the door to Sam for a change of clothes, clothes that are suspiciously being tossed into the room in one second flat, and change into the provided sweetpants and t-shirt. And when his hand reaches out to push open the now slightly ajar door, Sam's already completing the motion, is standing their like an expectant parent watching a toddler trying out walking for the first time.
But Dean doesn't make any protest, simply slings his arm around Sam's waist even as Sam reciprocates the move and then they do their awkward trek back to the bed. But he gives Sam a glare when his brother practically tucks him into the bed. He still has some pride after all. Even after the last few days, even after the crapfest that was Purgatory.
SNSNSNSN ~ Purgatory ~ SNSNSNSNSN
It took a few frustrating hours until Dean was finally able to move on his own, until his demands to stop being toted from Cas' shoulder to Benny's and be put down were actually considered. Understandably, his first steps were wobbly. What was less tolerable was both Cas and Benny frantically latching onto him, like they were afraid he might end up scraping his friggin' knee. And even when they did release him, they crowded so close to him that he couldn't deviate from a straight line without shoulder checking one of them.
But Dean didn't think his slow pace was actually holding them back, suspected that he was mostly matching Cas and Benny's stride. Because the angel and vampire, they were working at half power too. Were in the same shape he was: their battered strength still rebuilding and their wounds, treated as best as they could be, but smarting. All in all, they were a motley crew. And that didn't factor in the caterpillar corpses lurking under Dean's clothing. Just …yuk.
So when their travels took them beside a body of almost clean water, Dean quickly called a halt and announced his intentions to decaterpillar himself, his tone telling his friends that he wouldn't take no for an answer and he wouldn't tolerate any assistance.
"Don't make any sea monster friends this time," Benny called to his departing friend's back.
"Bite me!" Dean threw over his shoulder without slowing his pace.
"Maybe later, when I'm thirsty," Benny gamely countered, snorted at Dean's one fingered response. Noting Cas scowling at his shoulder, he lightheartedly coaxed, "Come on, it's a little vampire humor. Lighten up, Cas."
But Castiel's countenance stubbornly remained void of mirth, was instead lined with severity as the angel turned to Benny. "What we discussed before…."
Even after all that had happened the past couple of hours, Benny hadn't forgotten their conversation, not by a long shot, proved it by stating, "You mean you not going through the portal."
"Yes. I think it best if Dean doesn't know about my decision yet," Cas rationalized, pretended that it had nothing to do with delaying the hurt he knew his choice would inflict on Dean, of stamping down his growing fear that Dean would banish him from his side right then if he knew what he planned.
"I'll consider keeping your little secret if you tell me one thing," Benny offered, eyes stridently holding Cas' until the angel gave a nod of acquiescence. "By the tidbits I've heard from Dean and from you, Dean's not living the safest life in the real world, can use all the guardian angels and good luck charms that he can get. So how do you justify staying here, not being there to help him if he needs you?" And the answer Benny was searching for, it wasn't just to justify Cas' decision, was to justify his own. Because Dean had asked him to part ways with him once they came out on the other side of the portal, to no longer have his back. And he didn't know if he could do that, could bear the guilt if something happened to Dean because he wasn't there, regardless that he'd be following Dean's wishes.
Sensing an underlying urgency in the vampire's question, Cas answered it with the simple, most important factor in his defense. "Sam will be there to take care of Dean."
But the obvious faith shining through the angel's declaration ended up garnering a snort from the vampire. "A naïve angel?! That so….not funny. Dean trading up a guardian angel for a hunter?! Excuse me if I don't think that's a fair exchange. Sam may be Dean's brother but, correct me if I'm wrong, he's only human, right? And Dean…he's a magnet for the worst type of trouble, trouble that you, an angel of the Lord, and me, a hundred year old vampire, barely managed to see him through."
Cas immediately championed his unwavering choice. "Sam has safeguarded Dean many times when I've failed to. He has even defied the designs of all of Heaven and the master of Hell to save his brother's life. I've lost my faith in most people..but that Sam will always seek to protect Dean, that I still believe to be true."
But Benny caught the hitch to Cas' faith. "Seek to protect him, sure. But getting the job done, that's another thing entirely." The vampire gave a mirthless chuckle. "Sorry, but I'm having a hard time putting all my trust in Sam's ability to take over for us and keep Dean in one piece."
Understanding the pain his next words would inflict on Benny, Cas laid a hand on the vampire's shoulder and gentled his tone, "It's not your trust in Sam that matters." And he saw the flicker of pain cross Benny's features. "Dean's made his choice, Benny." Because there wasn't a doubt in Cas' mind that a choice had to be made and that Dean would choose Sam, would always choose Sam.
And as much as Benny knew that, it still hurt. Knew that his bond with Dean, it couldn't compare with Dean being back in his honest-to-goodness brother's presence. "Guess he has," he quietly admitted, shrugging Cas' hand off his shoulder and turning to walk away, get some distance between himself and the angel…from Dean for just a little while.
But Cas saw the hurt in Benny's eyes and something more, realized that Dean had already made his decision clear and Benny saw it as a betrayal. "Benny, Dean's decision isn't about mistrusting you. It's about mistrusting himself. Is about your safety."
The angel's faulty logic had Benny swiveling around, glowering, "My safety?! I'm the wolf among the sheep up there."
"Yes and Dean's brother and fellow hunters make it a point to try their best to annihilate your kind. You would be in more danger with Dean than he with you," Cas explained, couldn't fathom Sam's reaction to Dean's friendship with Benny, with a vampire who could turn on his brother one day.
"Right, because Dean only gets into trouble down here, huh? Is Mr. Safety, Mr. Caution topside?" Benny jeered, wasn't buying what Cas was selling. Had seen enough of Dean's scars to know the man didn't have the sense of a beetle when it came to getting out of the way of something clawed and gruesome.
"No," Cas honestly answered, could not pretend he was oblivious to Dean's proclivity to recklessly run into peril.
And Benny could have done with a truckload of less honesty right then. Sighing, he ran a hand over his face, admitted with a catch in his voice, "I just…I want to be there if Dean needs me. But he's cutting me out before we even get one foot through the portal."
As much as Cas knew Dean revered loyalty, valued bonds of friendship, Dean never thought he deserved them. The human had down right refused to believe God cared for him, had sent an angel to save him. Had seen each of Cas' early steps toward friendship as a manipulation. And even after someone proved their loyalty to Dean, their affection for him, Dean tended to push those people away after he suffered a loss or a near loss. Took drastic measures to safeguard himself against grief.
"It's not just about Sam's doubtless hostility toward you," Cas imparted, eyes coming up to hold Benny's, had come to accept that they both felt the same deep affection and steadfast loyalty to Dean. "Dean believes he's a curse to everyone that he cares about, thinks it's safer if he breaks the ties before it costs someone their life." The epitome of that was when Dean asked him to wipe even the notion of his existence from Lisa and Ben's memory. Like Dean thought their lives would be better if they never even met him. It was a horribly misguided belief, but, at that time, Cas had no resolve to deny Dean anything he asked of him.
Benny scowled heavily at Cas' explanation. "A curse?!" he indignantly bit out. "Dean might be cursed, with his piss poor luck, ok, yeah, but a curse?! Idiot's saved my life, your life more times down here than I can count. And he's loyal to a fault. Best friend I've ever had, alive or dead. So him thinking to cut ties 'cause it's better for me, for anyone, to not have him around?! That's just down right crazy."
"For once, we're in total agreement but convincing Dean is another matter entirely," Cas solemnly replied, had tried his hand at that more than once. "But the one person I've rarely seen Dean push away, is Sam."
Unconvinced, Benny shuffled on his feet. "So we're back to putting all our eggs into one basket again. It's Sam or bust."
"I'm not sure what that means but if you're saying Sam alone will have Dean's back…then yes, you're correct," Cas confirmed, tried to quell the fear that Sam wouldn't be enough, that in his absence, in Benny's absence Dean would come to harm. Because, like Benny had pointed out, Sam was only human. And Dean attracted danger like Joshua and misfortune like Job.
But then Cas recounted all Sam had willingly sacrificed for Dean, had overcome, had risked for his brother's life. Things he, an angel of the Lord, had deemed impossible. The one thing the Winchesters had taught him, time and again, was the unimaginable lengths love would go, could go. That they would go for each other. It caused his residual doubts to dissipate. "However fiercely we have fought to protect Dean, our efforts will pale in comparison to the ferocity with which Sam will safeguard his brother's life. I doubt Dean even understands the measures his brother will take to keep him from harm."
"Including taking my head," Benny suggested but there was humor now in his words, was a lessening of the tension in his stance at Cas' words, at the faith the angel had in Dean's brother's loyalty.
"Yes. I deem Sam a friend but he didn't hesitate to stab me in the back with an angel sword when I threatened Dean's life," Cas matter- of –factly recounted, didn't hold a grudge at Sam for his actions, was grateful the younger Winchester had distracted him before he could do more damage to Dean or even Bobby.
"Good to know," Benny drawled and then looked up at Dean's approach. "Well, don't you look all spiffy."
To which a Dean, now sporting wet hair and freshly decaterpillared, retorted with a cocky smile, "I know, even here, I'm striking."
"Rrrriiiggght, and so humble," Benny sarcastically quipped following into place beside Dean as Cas claimed his rightful spot at Dean's other side. "So I've been thinking…."
Dean gave a sideways glance at Benny, smartmouthed, "And here I thought Purgatory didn't have any more surprises."
"Up yours," Benny volleys back without missing a beat. "Explain to me why, when we were about to be invited to a ghoul BBQ, you thought it was a good idea to invite the Leviathans?"
"It distracted them, didn't it," Dean cavalierly countered, eyes ahead, focusing on the trail, on not walking him or his friends into another death trap.
"Could have easily turned into a progressive dinner," Benny peevishly muttered under his breath.
Realizing that Benny and Cas deserved more of an answer, especially after they had blindly trusted him and his crazy-on-toast plan, Dean came to a halt and faced Benny. "Godzilla versus Mothra."
But that didn't clear anything up for either of his traveling companions.
"Say again?" Benny remarked, frowning.
Drawing on patience he usually only dispensed on Sammy, Dean explained, "When you've got two sets of evil SOBs looking to eat you, sometimes the best thing you can do is pit them against each other. Make Godzilla fight Mothra and in the chaos, you beat feet." Then his face lit up with a proud smile, "I learned that little trick from my bother when the angels wanted to toss me back into Hell."
Benny shot a look of dawning respect over Dean's shoulder to Cas, had to begrudgingly accept that Sam was no lightweight in the fighting-evil war… or finding unorthodox ways of saving his brother. "I guess I owe your little brother thanks for teaching you everything you know," he directed to Dean, was already anticipating Dean's heated comeback at his goad.
Dean didn't disappoint. "Whoa! Whoa! One thing he taught me. One…ok, maybe like five things but the rest, I taught him."
"Sure you did," Benny drawled in his most patronizing tone as he skirted by Dean, started to head once again toward the portal. "Course Sam's not here to call BS."
"BS?!" Dean heatedly parroted back, quickening his pace to catch up with Benny. "Well, let's review all the nifty moves I taught you, that kept your vamp head attached."
"I was doing fine for fifty years without your tutoring," Benny bragged and couldn't resist throwing out a taunt. "And I definitely would have been smart enough to NOT join a caterpillar cult."
"Ha ha," Dean snidely rejoined. And it took him a good five minutes of walking between the angel and the vampire before he spoke again. "I get why you're upset, I do," he amicably told his fanged friend. "I mean, you already got turned into a vampire and now today, you were almost a….what? Butterpire."
"Screw you," Benny replied without giving Dean the satisfaction of looking his way.
"Vampfly," Dean tested another name, detected the infinitesimal jump in Benny's jaw that egged him on. "Catevamp."
"Vampapillar," Cas coolly supplied, eliciting a bark of true laughter from Dean that was worth every second of the totally not amused glower from Benny.
SNSNSNSN~ Present ~ SNSNSNSNSN
From his surprisingly comfy position in bed, Dean watches his brother secure the room like Sam thinks unwelcome supernatural guests are not only possible but expected. He recognizes it as Sam's way of handling all the stress of the last few days, his brother's way to feel secure, to batten down the hatches. But Dean's pretty sure none of it is necessary, that the only protection he needs is his towering 6" 4' brooding younger brother.
When Sam's checked the saltline at the door for a third time, Dean calls out across the small expansion that divides them, "I'm not the only one who could use some shuteye, Sammy." It earns him Sam's full rapt attention and he figures he might just have a chance at swaying Sam to obey him. After all, Sam did say he could boss him around once they got to the room. "You might love camping but, dude, camping doesn't seem to love you back. You look like crap," he worriedly teases at Sam's haggard, still somewhat scruffy appearance. Sam looked like he hadn't slept for a month and his usually perfect grooming practices had been shelved, all in lieu of worrying and taking care of him.
"Rrriiigghttt," Sam drawls sarcastically, abandoning his post at the door to come to his brother's side, "'cause this was just a normal camping trip. Nothing to write home about." Silently, he quantified everything that had made this the worst "camping trip" ever: 'Not like I unknowingly dragged him into a facsimile Purgatory, mentally scarred him worse than he was. Or that he nearly bled out. That I thought he was going to die and I couldn't do a thing to save him. Yeah, benign boy scout trip at its most boring.'
"Normal camping trip for us," Dean quietly counters as he meaningfully hold's Sam's gaze, needs Sam to know that none of this was his fault. It was just their lives. And there's something so wrong about that. "Exactly why I hate camping."
"Dean, when have you ever just gone camping? Pitched a tent, made s'mores, didn't expect or even anticipate something hungry coming for you?" Sam jests but there's a hint of sad regret in his tone at the end, because that wasn't Dean's childhood: camping trips, cookouts, picnics. Safety…security…unguarded contentment.
Not wanting to focus on that, for Dean to tally all he has sacrificed, for him, for their father, for their mother's revenge, Sam concedes a moment later with a chagrined smile, "But after this trip, camping's official on my don't-need-to-ever-do-again list." And his resolution so isn't just about not camping. 'No more ignoring signs that Dean's acting more squirrely than normal or distancing myself from Dean. And certainly no more almost losing Dean. Ever again.'
"I think that's wise," Dean sagely returns but then a cocky smile breaks across his features. "Because the camping trip before this one, you got married…to Becky."
"Dude, I never got to go camping and she whammed me!" Sam defends for the millionth time but ends up shaking his head as Dean's smile only brightens. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"Ah…no," Dean smugly replies, enjoys Sam's feigned grimace of annoyance. Knows Sam's not mad at him, has confirmation the next second when his little brother suddenly switches gears on him and employs his best mothering tone.
"Well, after you get some rest we'll tally all the times you got whammed." When Dean seems ready to protest that he ever got snookered, Sam tacks on two qualifiers with a confident smirk, "…by a spell…. or a girl." And now Dean's mouth is determinedly snapped shut and Sam considers it a victory in more ways than one. Sinking back into the chair by Dean's bed, he's ready to take up his vigil again.
"Bed, Sam. Not chair," Dean commands, eyes markedly shifting from his brother to the other clearly never used bed. Because Sam might be playing nursemaid but Dean's big brother status trumped that every time.
Sam can't deny that the idea of lying down sounds marvelous. And he knows exhaustion will set in soon enough but he can't think about giving into it, not when Dean might still need him. "Well, why don't you lead by example."
Sam's ploy earns a snort from Dean. But Dean's onto Sam's games, has come to realize its just another little brother manipulation. Like Sam's refusal to eat during their childhood unless Dean did. That it's Sam's way of taking care of him, of forcing him to take care of himself. And Dean's not angry by it, finds it surprisingly nice to be the one safeguarded. As long as it didn't go to Sam's head.
"Fine, but stop with the Team Edward creepy watching," Dean stipulates around a yawn even as his eyes flutter shut.
"Ok," Sam insincerely concedes without a shred of guilt for the lie or moving one muscle to abandon his position in the chair by his brother's bed. When Dean's breathing falls into an even tempo indicating sleep a few minutes later, Sam releases the breath he didn't even know he had been holding. And it isn't that he thought Dean would banish him from his side but more that he feared that Dean would fight sleep, would not chance letting down his guard, letting his memories resurface.
Leaning forward, Sam pulls the comforter up to properly cover Dean but doesn't settle back into the chair again, can't quite find the strength to move, to lift the hand he has resting on Dean's forearm, to let Dean on his own just yet. So he sits there and studies his brother's features in sleep, prays they won't soon be tainted by distress or fear, of nightmares that are more fact than fiction. Knows that if…when they do come, he'll do whatever he has to do to dispel Dean's nightmares before they get too far.
Because that's his prerogative. But more than that, it's his brotherly right, a right he will fight with his last breath to never forfeit again. Because, like he told Dean, it's his choice to protect his brother, even his choice how he protects his brother and if that means doing creepy bed side vigils, Dean will just have to deal with that. 'Because I'm not going anywhere.'
SNSNSNSN ~ Present ~ SNSNSNSN
To Sam's immense relief, Dean's sleep was restful and his brother's skin was more tepid than hot to the touch by the next morning. But he wasn't letting down his guard anytime soon, had already brow beat Dean into taking his pain pills and antibiotics the second his eyes slipped open and decreed that they weren't moving for a week, no arguments. Dean wasn't happy with either of his high handed manipulations but he was still too weak to counter them.
However, Sam couldn't find it in himself to revel in such an unsportsmanlike victory. It sent the room into a bit of a stale silence, Dean coming to terms with his lack of power and Sam fighting down the bitter taste of being cruel to be kind. Hoping that Dean will doze a little more, he foregoes turning on the tv, instead sits at the table, laptop in front of him and tries to hack into the Search and Rescue emergency response call log. His muscles tense when Dean initiates an entirely awkward conversation.
"I know I've been on the good drugs and all…" Dean leads with. When that admission is apparently not enough to garner Sam's attention, he continues, "I've got Metallica songs stuck in my head, and ok, that's about normal for me."
Sam's head snaps up at the Metallica reference, wonders if Dean subconsciously heard him humming those songs to him in the middle of the forest.
From his now slightly propped up position in his motel bed, Dean thinks his brother's sudden interest in the topic of conversation smacks of guilt. Shaking his head slightly in puzzlement, he says, watching Sam for his reaction, "But there's this other tune that's on a continuous loop in my head….I can't place it, I mean I know it …kinda."
'Oh crap,' Sam thinks, knows exactly what tune Dean's picking up from his all night hum session. No way is he admitting to infecting Dean with the Smurf song. "Maybe it's a show tune?" he jokes, earns him a welcome glare from his decidedly not-a-show-tune-kinda-tough-guy brother.
"You're hilarious, no," Dean shuts him down grumpily. But Sam's attempt at humor, it's a nervous gesture, happens when Sam's embarrassed about something. Eyes narrowing at his brother, Dean hazards in mortification, "You didn't…I mean when we were out there all alone and I was….out of it, you didn't….did you?"
Shifting in the chair, Sam pretends ignorance. "Didn't what?"
But Dean can read Sam's flimsy sham from a mile away. "You did, didn't you? What? You sang to me?!" he incredulously asks, even as part of him is touched Sam would do that for him.
Immediately Sam's putting his finger up, denying, "No, no, I didn't sing to you."
For a moment, Dean's stumped until he realizes, it's not the lyrics playing in his head…just the music. "You hummed Metallica songs to me, didn't you?" and there's a lack of indignation now, is coming across as all sappy awe.
Knowing he's caught, Sam bites his lip, mumbles, "Maybe."
Like a dog with a bone, Dean presses, "Ok, I get the Metallica playlist but the other song, was that you too? It's something…." Dean pauses, like it's playing in his head now where only he can hear it. "I just about have it and then…." Excitedly he starts pointing to Sam, "Wait, wait I think…" and Sam knows Dean's placed it when his brother's face twists into disgust at Sam, then at himself for getting it. "The friggin' Smurf song, Sam? Dude, you got that stuck in my head."
"Hey, you said Smurfette was hot!" Sam shoots back in his defense.
"Did not," Dean denies like an embarrassed grade-school boy accused of having a crush on a geek girl.
"Yeah, yeah, you did, Dean," Sam teasingly maintains, is enjoying putting Dean on the defensive.
Knowing he's holding a losing hand, Dean sulkily mumbles, "Hey, don't pick on the wounded guy."
That gets a snort from Sam. "Now you wanna play the wounded card?!"
"I am wounded," Dean petulantly grouses.
"Yeah, no duh," Sam counters flippantly but he's assessing Dean, a little worried that Dean's admitting to weakness. "If you're feeling worse again, maybe I can give you another pain pill awhile. You can grab some sleep and I'll tell you what I find out about the distress signal later," he offers carefully, hoping Dean will tell him if he needs something more from him, if he's truly pushed himself too far.
"Enough with the chit chat stalling, give me the lowdown," Dean orders, trying to take back the big brother mantle before Sam gets too used to being in charge.
Though Dean's gruffness is supposed to reassure him that Dean's on the mend, it's the memory of how weak and severely wounded Dean is that is Sam's reality. But instead of challenging Dean's deception of well-being, he returns his focus to his laptop, hits a few keystrokes before a smug eureka look crosses his face. "Got it," he announces as he gets out of the chair, commandeers the small unoccupied space in the bed beside Dean which leaves him half in and half out of the bed and balances the laptop on his thigh so they both can see the screen. Shoulder to shoulder, the brothers read the transcript of the call into Search & Rescue.
"Search and Rescue, what's your emergency?"
"My brother is badly injured. The coordinates are 33 degrees 28 minutes North and 108 degrees 32 minutes West"
"What kind of injury has he sustained? Is he conscious?"
"There is a deep laceration on his back and he's in shock from the blood loss. He is not conscious."
"Is his breathing shallow?"
"Shallow? I don't understand. Just…get him to a medical facility."
"At first light, we'll have a helicopter to your location."
"First light? No, you have to come immediately!"
"Ok, sir. Calm down. We can't risk going out in the dark but daylight will be in three hours."
"Your organization is called search and rescue. With the information I've provided, you don't need to search. Just rescue him. Now!"
"Sir, just put pressure on the wound, keep him quiet and warm. I can talk you through some other procedures to do until help arrives."
"No, I'm not…I can't….You must get to him as quickly as you can."
Even in the printed words, Dean can tell that the caller, whoever it was, was upset, even worried. About him. It is enough to make him uncomfortable. But for all that, he knows instinctively that the caller wasn't Sam. Nudging Sam in the side with his elbow, he wisecracks, "Well, I know it wasn't you."
"Yeah, because I said it wasn't," Sam distractedly replies as he rereads the transcript.
"That and the fact that there wasn't any chick flick breakdowns by the caller," Dean teases, hoping to get a rise out of his little brother.
But Sam can only wonder if Dean has any clue just how true his assumption is. Thinks Dean would have probably suggested someone tranquilize his little brother if he had been aware enough to witness Sam's total loss of control, to hear him unabashedly beg Cas to come, to save Dean. Thought the Search and Rescue team was considering such action when he frantically overruled their plan to fly his brother away without him, and again by the hospital staff when they thought they had a chance in a billion of prying him away from Dean's bedside.
When Sam's reaction to his goading is to go a little pale, Dean realizes Sam's not up to joking about his near death escapade, needs a little gentle handling because it's been a really crappy week for Sam too. Not to mention Sam's probably giving himself grief that the caller wasn't him, that he didn't rig up bubble gum wrappers and a Swiss Pocket knife and make a long distance call…smack dab in the middle of absolutely nowhere. "Whoever this was, they made the call, yeah, but they didn't keep me alive," he quietly points out, nearly conks his head with Sam's when Sam snaps around to face him. And he knows Sam wants to say something but can't, needs a little more truth and a lot less vagueness. "You did that, Sam," he proclaims, gratitude glimmering his eyes for Sam, for his brother's refusal to give up on him or to let him give up on himself.
Sam's stunned a moment, but when he goes to open his mouth, to hopefully make a coherent, if sappy, comeback, his laptop chooses that moment to kick in the audio track of the Search and Rescue call.
At the caller's voice, both Sam and Dean say in synch: "Cas."
Because, if the stilted conversation wasn't enough of a hint, the deep baritone gives it away.
But Dean's brow is creased in confusion because Cas, he's been off the radar, had been persona non grata, wouldn't even know where they were, let alone if they needed help. But it clicks into some semblance of logic with one look at Sam's grateful, suspiciously water eyed expression. "You…you called for Cas. In the forest."
Sam's voice is hoarse but his tone's joyful, "Yeah, I didn't think…he didn't come and I thought…." And he's never been so glad to have misjudged someone before in his life. Unable to keep the smile from breaking across his lips, he meets Dean's still bewildered gaze, "Maybe he couldn't make a house call but he still found a way to save you."
At Dean's pending protest, Sam moderates, "Ok, I saved you but he got you to the hospital to get patched up." But Cas' actions, they proved to Sam that the angel was still worthy of his respect, still worthy of his trust when it came to Dean's wellbeing. And he knew they should tell Dean something too. "I think this blows your whole, 'Cas is pissed at me and gladly ditched me' out of the water. You of all people should understand that sometimes people don't leave because they want to, but because they have to."
Dean bites his lip, mulling that over and can't find fault in Sammy's logic. "You think you're so smart," he grouses a moment later but there's too much admiration in his eyes as they alight on Sam to deliver any slight.
Snapping his laptop shut, Sam smugly replies with a twinkle in his eyes as they land on his brother, "The Force is strong in my family…. but it's strongest with me."
"You wish," Dean snorts back, giving a snap to Sam's thigh which generates only mocking laughter from his brother.
SNSNSNSN~ Purgatory ~ SNSNSNSNSN
For Benny, the surety that they were drawing closer to the portal was bittersweet. His fierce anticipation of freedom tempered by the sorrowful knowledge that he and Dean's paths were diverging. It was almost ludicrous that, in the middle of Purgatory's cesspool of monsters and death, he had crossed paths with a man he could call friend, deemed a brother. Thought that maybe the angel he traveled with would tell him God works in mysterious ways and he was starting to believe that wasn't all hogwash.
"By the way, where were you guys back there when I was getting turned into Mothman?" Dean demanded out of the blue. "Braiding your hair?"
"We were discussing.." Cas began earnestly but Benny, with a wink, cut off his confession.
"Exchanging manicure tips," Benny offered to Dean, was truly surprised when Cas chimed in a beat later.
"Good hygiene is next to godliness."
Appalled, Dean swung his look from the vampire to the angel but read no hint of a sham. "You're not serious. I'm growing friggin' scales and you two are trading nail care secrets?!"
"You gotta take care of what you value, my granddaddy taught me that," Benny philosophized, his eyes pointedly resting on Dean before skipping over to Cas. And he knew that the angel, unlike Dean, wasn't missing his true meaning. That what he valued, who he valued was right there and it was his job, his unexpected honor, to keep him out of trouble this side of Purgatory.
"Dude, you're not right in the head," Dean chuckled, knew better than anyone that you couldn't win an argument with a crazy person.
"Course not, I befriended you, didn't I," Benny drawled as he threw his arm around Dean's shoulders and drew his surrogate brother close. "Cas is a few feathers light of a full wingspan too, if that's the gauge we're going by."
Not bothering to dispute either the assumption or the insult, Cas simply closed in the distance between he and Dean and headed faithfully for the portal, to the place that offered his best friend safety and a much anticipated reunion with his brother Sam. Was startled a bit when Dean gave his shoulder a backhanded pat, and prodded, "Aren't you even going to defend yourself?"
"Dean, I think you're forgetting that I broke out of a mental institute and then agreed to help you try to defeat the entire Leviathan community armed with just a bone," Cas casually reminded his best friend.
"Ah, yeah, right. I withdraw the question," Dean hastily remarked but Benny wasn't letting him off the hook that easily.
Giving Dean's drying hair a duck rub, Benny merrily insinuated, "Admit it brother, you attract crazy. Course, crazy likes crazy…." laughed when Dean playfully shoved him away and patted down his hair like his appearance mattered here of all places.
"Jerk," Dean muttered but there was a twinkle of mischievousness in his gaze as he tried to trip Benny and his shoulder bumped into Cas'.
And it defied logic that the insult had Benny smiling widely and Cas felt a warm glow of contentment spread inside him, was even then adding that word to his list of favorites of the English language. But then again, logic had never stopped Dean from following his heart, even when it took him down a dark, deadly path with an outcast angel and an excommunicated vampire toward a light that wouldn't even exist without him.
With Dean between them, Cas shared a look with Benny, knew that, for them, a season in Purgatory wasn't such a bad price to pay for a friendship such as Dean's. That there was nowhere else either of them would rather be right then except at Dean's side. And they would make the most of the time they had left together, would treasure it, just like they treasured the man who had made them more than allies, had done the unimaginable, and made them family.
SNSNSNSNSN ~ Present ~ SNSNSNSNSN
"No," Sam flatly refuses for the fifth time without looking up from the magazine he's reading on his bed.
But Dean's not giving up. "Two towns over, Sam. We can practically walk there."
"We?" Sam challenges across the expansion to Dean's bed, raising an eyebrow at his brother's take on his physical stamina.
"Drive there," Dean concedes. "Come on it's clearly a ghost. Easy peasy."
Returning his focus to his magazine, Sam calmly opposes, "Answer's still no."
"Ok, look, you can go alone, I won't be there to mess it up," Dean suggests, isn't expecting Sam's eyes to fly up to his like he's started chanting in Latin.
"What are you talking about?" Sam searchingly demands, seems on the verge of coming to his feet and towering over his brother's reclined form if Dean doesn't give him a valid answer.
Even without Sam doing his towering act, Dean shuffles uneasily back against the backboard of his bed before quietly reiterating his meaning, "You can handle it on your own. And I …you know, with no one distracting you…. spacing out, getting spooked."
Putting his magazine down, Sam looks at his brother with tender exasperation. "You really think this is about me not wanting you with me on a hunt?!"
"I'm not the most reliable partner lately," Dean acknowledges with a wane smirk.
"Says who?!" Sam indignantly challenges, tossing the magazine aside and sitting up to face Dean in the other bed. "Dean, there is no one, no one, I trust to have my back more than you. Even half dead, you've got more survival instincts than Samuel and his whole crew put together." But he instantly pales at his own crudely worded declaration, not at the mention of Samuel but at his half dead description of his brother, a description that's too painfully factual of their latest hunt.
"Survival instincts, yeah, but hunting?" Dean skeptically demurs, not willing to turn a blind eye to his weakness, not if it could get Sam killed. Eyes downcast, hand picking at a loose thread on the comforter, he quietly recaps his earlier acts of cowardice, "I freaked out when Mac and his cohorts set up that organ buffet for the Wendingo, went…running off, scared."
"Dean, you dragged me back there to save them and you're the one that took down the Wendigo before it killed them right there in their shop of horrors," Sam reminds Dean, brotherly pride carrying in his voice. "You…you put whatever you were feeling away, concentrated on trying to save innocent lives. That's what you do, have always done and Purgatory hasn't changed that." Knows that Dean isn't discounting his words out of hand when his brother finally looks up at him, meets his eyes. "And as far as us not hunting yet, that's because I'm not hunting without you. Has everything to do with you not being able to stand up without nearly passing out and nothing to do with me worrying that you're going to scream like a girl and bolt when Casper makes a showing," he says, fighting back the mirth at that implausible yet funny mental picture of that particular scenario.
"I do not nearly pass out. I can prove it," Dean boasts, starts to sit up in the bed, ignores the pain coming from his back and the way his breath decides to ping around in his chest instead of flowing nice and easy.
Lifting his leg so it crosses over into his brother's bed, Sam easily blocks Dean's escape. "I don't need proof. Just…cool your afterburners for a while. Besides, I already called Garth. Someone's on it."
"You couldn't have told me that five minutes ago?" Dean charges with exasperation.
But Sam's reaction is to bestow an amused smile on his brother. "And miss you whining, not a chance."
"I don't whine," Dean objections in an eerie rendition of a whine.
"Yeah," Sam mockingly disagrees.
But when Sam does that thing where he brushes his hair out of his eyes and straightens his back, Dean knows it's a preamble to yet another deep conversation.
Facing Dean, Sam clears his throat and announces, "Alright we need to make some pacts."
Dean's not exactly proud that his deductive reasonings were right, especially since he's too doped up on pain killers to have the wit to thwart Sam's one track mind but he tries his best. "What are we, twelve?!"
And Sam totally ignores his attempt.
"Next time a hunt comes up that triggers memories of Purgatory or Hell or just a bad day you once had, just tell me, Ok? You don't have to explain it to me just say, "Pass". And I'll do the same," Sam proposes, doesn't want a repeat happening again, doesn't ever want to unknowing force Dean into a situation he's not comfortable with, that leads to even half the bad crap this time did.
"Come on, Sam! Between our two long lists of phobias, we'll be hunting the tooth fairy. Oh yeah, except Garth already took care of him," Dean petulantly shoots back.
"I hear the Easter bunny's still up for grabs," Sam supplies as serious as he can, laughs as a pillow hits him on the face, offhandedly proud of his brother's returning dexterity.
But Dean stills a moment later, does a hit and run with Sam's eye contact before he meekly said, "I just …don't want to be a liability to you, Sam, like I was for Cas and Benny in Purgatory.
"Like in Purgatory?" Sam repeats with amused condescension. "You mean where you outsmarted five ghouls, took a second commander-in-chief Levi's head and subsequently saved Cas and Benny's life."
"I didn't save their lives, they saved mine," Dean mildly corrects. "And their lives wouldn't have been in jeopardy if it wasn't for me."
"Right, because there's no danger in Purgatory," Sam sarcastically drawls but repents somewhat at Dean's glare. "Ok, they wouldn't have needed saving if not for you…because they would have been dead already if you weren't around to save them a hundred times before." At Dean's apparent lack of awe at his circular logic, Sam sighs. "It's the whole chicken versus egg thing, Dean. You needed them and they needed you. Same thing with us."
Though Sam's statement seemed casual enough, it spoke volumes to Dean. Declared that Sam wasn't going anywhere, was sticking with him for the long haul.
And just in case Dean didn't get his subtle message, Sam points a reprimanding finger at his brother the next second. "Now you promise to stop trying to die on me. And if you try to push me away again….I'm never going to get you pie, ever again."
"Those are fighting words, Sammy," Dean says but his voice is tight with emotions because his brother's sentiments, they are coming to him loud and clear. No more separate vacations to parts unknown, no more walls keeping them apart.
"I know," Sam solemnly says, eyes holding Dean's until he's sure Dean knows, in no uncertain terms, that he means business. About the pie and Dean pushing him away. But there isn't opposition but a humbleness and an easing of the tension in Dean's albeit pale features. And that's good enough of an answer for Sam. "Anyway, I was thinking we should head to New York City next."
"Thought we weren't hunting yet," Dean hazards, wonders if Sam was just pulling his leg earlier about the no-hunting edict.
"Nope, no hunting," Sam steely confirms, but suddenly begins to feel a bit of trepidation at how his gesture will go over with Dean. Nervously clearing his throat, he announces in a tone that's a little too cheery, "But New York City is the farthest thing from a forest as you can get." Dean's raised eyebrows telegraph his brother's shock but the softening in Dean's eyes a moment later tell Sam that his efforts weren't in vain. "I'm betting that there were no skyscrapers, panhandlers or throngs of people filling the streets of Purgatory?" he surmises with a smirk, glad that Purgatory is no longer a forbidden topic, that he now knew some ways, small as they were, to ease some of Dean's PTS symptoms.
Sam's pitch, the thought behind it, humbles Dean. That his brother would think of this, would do this for him, it puts him in the frame of mind to buy a "I love the big apple" t-shirt. Course what he says is, "Half the inhabitants of that city would fit in great in Purgatory, you know that, right?"
"Well, I didn't want to make you go cold turkey," Sam parries back, understands that Dean's joke is his brother's way of acquiescing to his plan without going all gushy on him with gratitude.
Dean chuckles at that. "True." But then he's the one pointing at his brother. "But just so we're clear…"
And Sam's breath gets caught in his chest and he knows whatever ultimatum Dean's about to make, he'll agree to it because there is no way he is jeopardizing the brotherhood he's gotten back with Dean. For anything.
Giving Sam a cocky smile, Dean cements the rules, "…I'm not protecting you from any mimes."
Sam laughs a bit too loud at Dean's proclamation, his relief and happiness too hard to stamp down. But the next moment, he confidently contests Dean's statement with a fond look, "Yes, you will," because he knows his brother better than anyone and Dean always protects those he loves, even from innocuous threats like mimes.
Sam's declaration, it's about more than mimes, Dean gets that and simply nods back in silent agreement. Then he watches as Sam decisively bounds off his bed, raids the refrigerator and begins grabbing items from the kitchenette cupboards. When Sam turns around, triumphant smile beaming, boasting a "ta-da". and proudly holding a plate bearing a slice of pie, Dean gives a fond praise of "Sammy" as a wide smile transforms his pale features.
Ridiculously pleased with himself, Sam crosses to Dean's bed but pulls the plate back from his brother's reaching hand, nearly chuckles at Dean's scowl. "Scoot over," he orders, tracks the confused but compliant emotions that flicker in Dean's eyes before his brother does as he asks and moves a few inches to the left. And Sam knows, even that trivial gesture, that small show of trust in him, it's a gift. A gift he isn't going to take for granted again.
Not sure of the emotions he's seeing in Sam's eyes, Dean is about to ask Sam if he's turned into a statue when his 6'4" brother surprisingly stakes a claim on the other side of his bed, shifts a few seconds until his back's resting on the backboard just right, like friggin' Goldilocks. And then, and only then, does the pie come Dean's way.
"Comfy?" Dean sarcastically drawls, doesn't need Sam to know that his close proximity is just fine with him, that he's missed this, them sharing space, not afraid to make even incidental contact. They have both been so guarded, even from each other, especially from each other.
"Yeah, thanks," Sam replies, totally ignorant to his brother's sarcasm as he snags the TV remote off the nightstand. Dean rolls his eyes, which Sam is oblivious too also and takes his first bite of pie and, honest to goodness, moans in pleasure, vows that he is never getting marooned anywhere without pie again. 'Or Sam,' because yeah, the last place he wanted Sam to be was in Purgatory but that didn't change the fact that, he would always want his brother with him.
His head snaps to the TV as a familiar voice filters through the room, realizes that somehow Sam's managed to find a "Dr. Sexy" rerun. Sam's voice draws his attention back to his brother at his side.
"Saw that it was OnDemand, thought you could catch up on last season since…." Sam peters out, doesn't want to bring up Purgatory so soon, to give Dean the impression that its going to be the topic of every conversation they have. Shyly, his eyes travel to Dean. But Dean's not glowering or even deflecting, instead he's giving him a look Sam's never generated from anyone else: a look of deep, unreserved affection.
"Thanks," Dean hoarsely replies, touched that Sam's going to all this effort for him.
Bashfully, Sam nods before he starts to watch the show, his brother's favorite show. One he couldn't bear to even see advertised all the time his brother was gone. 'But Dean's back now,' he reassures himself, and knows it's more than that: Dean's back with him. But the ache, its only fully banished from his soul when he purposely shifts to his left, and his shoulder touches Dean's.
Dean finds himself captivated, not by the TV show, but by his brother. A brother who cared enough about him to do this, to present him with some of his favorite things, to stand by him, no matter what. To choose him, over anyone else, over any other future he could have.
Nope, Sam wasn't going to be bailing on him either if they get into it with some New York City mimes. And just as confidently, Dean knows that his memories of Purgatory, they aren't going to break him, not with Sam there with him, ready and willing to patch up even the smallest cracks to his sanity. And besides, some of those memories were good, shouldn't be forgotten, were meant to be treasured, could be with Sam helping him to hang onto the good and to let the others fade to the background. But more than that, his brother was proving to him that, as much as Purgatory had tainted him, it didn't change the way Sam felt about his big brother.
And that mattered most of all to Dean because he had fought with every single ounce of his strength, not to escape Purgatory, but to come back to his brother. To end up exactly where he is right now. To finally be home again.
What an amazing time I had with this story due to all of my lovely readers and astonishingly supportive reviewers. So thank you all so much!
And I don't want to end this story without offering my fervent hope for healing for all those who have PTS. You bear more than you should have to but I have faith that you have the strength to endure.
Have a great day!